Mexico had a tough time but were able to get a key win after defeating Panama by a 1-0 score. Once again Mexico struggled in Estadio Azteca against a defensive side and after playing a terrible first half, but once again the impact of the substitutions was able to get Mexico a victory. With the win, Mexico remains in third place in CONCACAF’s World Cup Qualification but is tied with the United States at 21 points. Still, Mexico will have a huge task against the United States at home in their next World Cup Qualifiers, and this win will actually increment the doubts especially after a surprising starting lineup in which a suspended Hector Moreno wasn’t replaced by Mexico’s most successful defender club wise in Johan Vasquez but Nestor Araujo, with Vasquez not playing a single minute during these FIFA dates.
Mexico started with the controversial starting 11 against a Panama side that looked like they wanted to get a key result, especially after the results from the games before this. Mexico started slow as you could see the pressure was all over them. Mexico had a good opportunity when a bad pass by Panama went straight to Alexis Vega, who then found a surging Raul Jimenez but after getting past two defenders, he deflected the dribble off of his foot and lost the ball. It was a bad mistake that wasted a great chance, especially because he could have passed it to a wide open Vega, who was in front of the goalkeeper but he was a tad too selfish. Mexico had taken control of the match, but in the first opportunity for Panama they came real close to scoring. Once again it was terrible set play defending, which had Mexico clearing the ball right into the path of Fidel Escobar. Escobar got off a shot that was deflected by Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and cleared almost off the line by Hector Herrera. Mexico answered back with a ball in the area that was finished with a terrible cross by Carlos Rodriguez. Mexico looked to have a good chance when Jimenez started a counter, but Vega incredibly gave the ball away to Panama’s goalkeeper Luis Mejia although the play was offside. Panama had another chance off a corner kick when the ball was cleared to Adalberto Carrasquilla, but his shot was deflected off a Panamanian player. In what was a great example of the nervousness of Mexico, a ball was cleared off a corner kick and Andres Guardado crashed into Gerardo Arteaga as both players went for the ball. Jimenez got a ball in the area and after getting past his defender, he got off a left footed shot that was saved by Mejia. A cross into the area was deflected into the path of Vega but his header went wide. Mexico had another chance when a cross by Arteaga was just missed by Jimenez, who glanced the ball wide. Mexico wasted another great chance when Mejia made a terrible pass to a Panamanian player and Hirving Lozano won the ball, but after Jimenez got the ball he made a bad pass to Lozano, who couldn’t reach the ball as he entered the area and Mejia was able to get to it. Panama answered with Carrasquilla making a pass to Cesar Yanis, who got a left footed shot that went just wide. Later Jimenez got off a shot that forced Mejia to make a save, but it was ruled to be offside. It would be the last play as Mexico had played another lackluster first half, playing right into the way Panama was expecting them to do so.
The second half had Panama subbing out Cesar Yanis for Jose Luis Rodriguez while Mexico didn’t make any subs. Mexico looked to have scored after Lozano won the ball, got past a defender and it looked to have crossed the line, before a pass into the area found Jimenez, whose shot went past Mejia. Still replays showed that the ball had gone out before Lozano made the pass and the goal was correctly called off. A cross into the area was headed by Guardado towards Jimenez, but his half volley went well wide. Guardado then made a great pass to Jimenez but once again he stumbled as he tried to get by a Panamanian defender and he lost the ball. Later a pass into the area by Lozano was cleared by Alberto Quintero but into the path of Anibal Godoy, who looked like he had handled the ball but nothing was given. Later Carlos Rodriguez made a terrible mistake, clearing a ball right into a Panamanian player and the ball then went into the path of Jose Luis Rodriguez, starting a great counter attack that was finished with a left footed shot that was brilliantly saved by Ochoa. Mexico wasted a chance when Herrera made a great pass that found Vega, but his shot went just wide. Panama subbed out Rolando Blackburn and Alberto Quintero for Jose Fajardo and Abdiel Ayarza. Then after Mexico looked to be a great counter attack, Michael Murillo pushed Lozano and he was badly injured in the fall. Lozano had to get medical attention and was subbed out for Diego Lainez. Mexico also subbed out Carlos Rodriguez and Julio Dominguez for Jesus Corona and Julian Araujo. Panama lost a ball right into the path of Herrera, who made a pass to Jimenez but after a one-on-one, his shot was saved by Mejia although replays showed the play to be offside. Panama had to sub out injured Roderick Miller for Jiovany Ramos. A great play by Corona, getting past various Panamanian players was cleared into the path of Lainez, who then found Araujo. Araujo got off a pass that fell to Vega but his shot went wide, wasting another great chance. The substitutions were game changing as Mexico started to be a lot more inspired in their attacks as Panama could no longer get any possession. Then off a corner kick, the ball was cleared into the path of Lainez, who first battled and then got past the defender before being brought down by Ayarza and the referee gave a penalty kick. Raul Jimenez stepped up to take the PK and with a softly placed right footed kick, would score the 1-0. Mexico subbed out Alexis Vega for Luis Romo while Panama subbed out Adalberto Carrasquilla for Armando Cooper. Mexico wasted a chance when after Mejia got the ball, Lainez pressured him and forced him to make a pass to Guardado, who then lobbed the ball over Mejia but also well wide when he had a prime chance to score. Mexico kept controlling the ball, as Panama now needed to score but weren’t able to mount any attacks. A cross into the area was headed by Murillo but the ball went wide. The final whistle blew and Mexico had been able to get the key win and improve to a four point lead over Panama in the standings.
Once again it wasn’t pretty, but Mexico was able to get a huge victory against Panama. There were a lot of rumors that Coach Gerardo Martino would lose his job if he didn’t pick up a win. Things were especially stiff after a Costa Rica win away against Jamaica and a win by the United States had Mexico temporarily only two points above Costa Rica and now three points behind the United States. The controversy from the starting 11 where Vasquez was benched and were instead of right back Julian Araujo in for the suspended Luis Rodriguez, Martino went with Julio Cesar Dominguez, who is a center back with Cruz Azul. Most importantly that like against Costa Rica, Mexico looked extremely predictable and were failing to break through against a defensive Panama team. While it’s true that like in the Jamaica game, Martino’s substitution paid off and changed the match in favor of Mexico (although the dominance against Jamaica was more notable), with the game being at home and after the failure in the tie against Costa Rica it looks like this time the subs fixed a very bad reading of the match at the start. Mexico will definitely be talked about, especially Martino’s performance, and while Mexico will have a very tough match against the United States right now they have taken a huge step toward qualification in the World Cup. Perhaps more importantly, they dodged a huge problem by getting those three points although without improvement, things will be worse in March especially if they fail to get a result against the US.